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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  February 27, 2011 3:00pm-4:00pm EST

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>> there was a first edition, i don't think a first printing, but a first edition of adam smith's "wealth of nations," and that will restored after the construction's done. another thing that occurred to me and this is also revealing in many ways, our longtime chairman here at cato is a man named bill news gannon who worked in the reagan administration and much other private service. if you go up to bill's office, what you find is that there's three pictures on his wall up there, framed photos of or
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silhouettes of sir isaac newton, charles darwin and adam smith. and i think that, in many respects, is indicative for bill and for cato benefactors of mankind, and adam smith stands very highly in that, that pantheon of benefactors for mankind. and so it's very appropriate today that we have with us a author of a new book on adam smith, an intellectual biography, "adam smith: an enlightened life." our author today and our first speaker, nicholas phillipson, was an undergraduate at aberdeen and cambridge university, graduated with a ph.d. from cambridge in 1967. he was appointed lecturer in history at edinborough and subsequently appointed senior lecturer and reader. he retired from final employment in 2004 and was appointed honorary research fellow.
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he has held research appointments at a number of leading universities in the united states and europe. his research interests have focused on the cultural and intellectual history of early/modern and modern scotland with a particular interest in the his -- history of scottish enlightenment. he is co-directer of the project on the science of man in scotland, and he is a founder/editor of a new journal, "modern intellectual history," published by cambridge university press. he is past president of the 18th century scottish studies society, and he has lectured extensively on his topic today in both europe and the united states. now, i hasten to add to finish the intro and get to our speaker, one reviewer of this book has remarked that the book reveals that adam smith lived a wholly unremarkable, a wholly boring life. he was excited mostly by buying
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books. apparently, the most exciting thing that happened was going over the library's purchase plans according to this reviewer, and of course, he was excited by intellectual ideas. a shame, according to this reviewer, that he had such a boring life. [laughter] why wasn't adam smith like the poet phillip larkin who lived a similar life, but at least he enjoyed the odd dirty joke? [laughter] so my question, to get professor phillipson started is, after all your research, did you come across any evidence that adam smith enjoyed dirty jokes? [laughter] [applause] >> well, now, that's quite a question. for a lecturer to start. i not only don't know of any dirty jokes that adam smith made
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or responded to, i can't imagine what they'd have been likement. [laughter] there is nothing that, as i say, i'm not trying to -- i'm racking my brain for ten seconds on this. there is nothing i can think of in either in his lectures on rhetoric and nothing in the wealth of nations that begins to smack of smut. [laughter] and the trouble is, there is nothing in smith's life, or virtually nothing, to suggest that he -- well, he had women friends, that he had any emotional entanglements. one of my audience when i was lecturing on this in germany said either sex? and i said, neither sex. there is no inkling of romantic attachments of any source. it is a pity, but i'm not
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absolutely sure that i agree with my kind reviewer, actually, who said that smith, that this effectively added up to a boring life. and i really rather -- thank you very much for referring to this in the introduction because this was very much what i thought i ought to do by way of correction in introducing you to the sort of things that i set out to do and didn't set out to do in writing adam smith's life. now, one of the questions i've been asked so often, it's not true, and this book has been some time in the making, and i may say the question has been asked many times, what on earth is a historian like myself who has no degree in economics, who has no economics training whatsoever doing writing the biography of the greatest, if i may say so, of all economists, certainly to one of my lay eye? and i had two answers to this
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question. one is a weak answer, and it is that smith's first biographer, dugald stewart who was a partial pupil of his, was his first biographer. and dugald stewart's account of smith's life and works still plays an enormous part in shaping every subsequent author's thinking about their subject. my stronger answer to this question, however, is, um, that smith did not see himself as, um, an economist or a political economist if we are to be more accurate. um, he saw himself as a philosopher. and it seems to me that -- or, rather, it seemed to me when i was planning this biography, and it's seemed to me ever since that what a historian could try
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and do was to see smith as smith saw himself, as a philosopher working in a particular context. um, are you -- >> yeah, i'm sorry. >> -- about my delivery, which is awful. [laughter] >> [inaudible] >> you're turning it up? >> i didn't know that this was -- >> it seems they're turning the things up. >> i'm unfamiliar with such things. >> right, okay. >> sorry. [laughter] >> i now don't -- is this going to go down or stay up? [laughter] so, as i say, my intention was to write a biography of smith as smith saw himself, that is to say as a philosopher. and a philosopher who spent a great deal of his early career in raising questions which were essentially philosophical questions about the principles of human nature, and found
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himself raising questions in such terms that they impinged on questions about the distribution of economic resources. now, in getting down to the nuts and bolts of how a biography guided by that principle was to be delivered, um, i had as every biographer of adam smith has always had, the primary practical problem to address. and that problem was the appalling shortage of conventional biographic alters. when smith -- biographical materials. when he was on his death bed, he got all smith's manuscript remains, his lecture notes, his correspondence, drafts of
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chapters and one optimistically-minded biographer has even suggested the text of an unfinished book. i'm not quite sure i believe that but, anyway, that's the way it goes. and these were all destroyed in front of him two days -- two weeks before his death. and as smith was one of the most thorough, one of the most systematic of all philosophers, that bonfire was thorough. nothing from that has remained apart from a handful of unfinished essays he had a particular liking for which he told his compute to haves they could -- executors they could publish if they wanted to. and added to that, there is the problem that smith himself was a lousy correspondent. one of the minor themes of the correspondence that has remained, um, the letters sent, he sent to others and the
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subsequently turned up, one of the enduring themes is that smith never answered letters. [laughter] it's a constant complaint. he was unlike, for example, so many of the great philosophers of the late enlightenment like hume, like russo, like voltaire. he did not regard correspondence as a form of communication which is as natural to us as ordinary conversation is or, god help us, e-mail is now. smith wrote letters when there was business to be done, um, and he wrote letters when they were goaded out of him by his friend. and they're good enough. but they are not the sort of correspondence we associate, um, with the enlightenment. and then if you turn to the institutions with which smith was connected during his life,
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with glasgow university where he was professor of moral philosophy from 1752-1763, the university in which he said he spent the happiest and most fruitful years of his life. i'm not the only historian who has ransacked the records of glasgow university to try and track down the records of their greatest professor and, in fact, a professor who played an extremely active part, um, and a very responsible part in the management of his university's business. but yet the institutional records are pretty negative. and same is true if we turn to the end of smith's life. smith in 1780 -- 1778 was appointed a commissioner of customs in din borrow d in edinborough. he treated it seriously as a job to be attended to by a
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responsible public servant. you'd have thought that in the records of any government department, even 18th century government department, the remains of a highly-active, senior manager must have been, must have survived, and they don't. there are bits and pieces, but there is nothing that is going to change the record. in other words, what i am saying is one of the first tasks that smith's biographer faces is this lack of biographical visibility. um, and this presents a problem. well, it certainly presented a problem to me because in my view, you cannot write a successful biography, um, which you can, you can hope people will read unless you can hear the biographical subject speak. i love voices in biography. the voices aren't there, it's not biography for me. but the trouble is, um, that if
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one wants to hear smith speak, the only ways you can do it are by tending to his two great published works -- "the theory of moral sentiments" and "the wealth of nations" -- and to the extraordinary and nil neglected series of student lecture notes taken between 1762 and 1763 of his lectures on jurisprudence. these are the only places in which smith speaks to us now, and it seemed to me that these were going to be placed at the center of smith's biography. and what it meant was that my biography was going to have to be an intellectual biography, a biography of a philosopher seen through the making of different sorts of texts; lectures on one hand, great philosophical texts on the other. there was another problem,
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another preparatory problem that i had to address early on, and that is the meaning of philosophy. it's all very well to say smith saw himself as a philosopher, but what did philosophy mean in the context of his own life, his own culture? now, smith's particular trade, um, as a philosopher was moral philosophy. and by the time -- and the moral philosophy in which he was trained and the moral philosophy tradition, um, in which he was raised, the european moral philosophy tradition in which he was raised presented moral philosophy as what some people called the queen of the sciences. it was a science you approached having got -- having had a classical education, having been educated in lodge of
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metaphysics, having been educated in natural philosophy and possibly on the side, mathematics. that might -- it would depend on your university. and that was certainly the framework of his education at glasgow university in 1736 to 1740. under the great francis hutchison. um, hutchison, um -- smith in preparing himself for the moral philosophy class was lucky, the natural philosophy he was taught was taught by someone who was highly sensitive to newton and to newtonian philosophy. the mathematics he was taught which i think, in my view, has been grossly neglected by students of adam smith, he was taught math mathematics by one e great enlightenment mathematicians, robert simpson, the gee i don't meaner the and
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the person who revolutionized europe's understanding of euclid. smith, and i think this is often forgotten, was always a serious mathematician. he could talk mathematics with serious mathematicians and did so throughout his life. all of this was in his background before he entered the moral philosophy curriculum, before the agenda which he was to develop at glasgow was made apparent. um, and what smith did was -- i'm so sorry, what francis hutchison did was to present him, first of all, to a critical introduction to the moral philosophy of the ancient world and the contemporary world and to the snags, to the intellectual snags which different sets of philosophy presented to the modern philosopher. he introduced him, then, to the
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study as all moral philosophers are bound to do, to the nature of -- to the origins of those ideas we have about morality, justice, political obligation, aesthetics and natural religion. those ideas which shape the civic personality. those ideas, um, which make it possible, um, to live sociably in a modern civil society. and he was also introduced to hutchison's notion that these ideas should be thought of as sentiments which we, of which we recover well in the course of ordinary life and which, if we think philosophically about them, we will find to be controlled by a principle in human nature, the moral sense. hutchison introduced him to the idea that if you want to practice the queen of the sciences, you must understand
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the origins of these sentiments, you must understand the working of, of the moral sense. and in doing that, you will be able to function as a free citizen in the modern politic. now, what i want to call attention to is what smith does with this sort of agenda, because the point i've tried to build my book round is that this curriculum, smith's variant of this curriculum taken as a framework for smith's work as a moral philosopher and as a political economist, is really quite extraordinary. and it is much more extraordinary than i believe, um, historians have realized. smith began his course or added to his course his own equivalent
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of the study of logic and metaphysics, of the origins of, of knowledge. and he does it in the most peculiar way. he does it by inviting us to attend, almost exclusively, to the way in which we use language. his logic, his approach to the study of knowledge is to present us with a study of language and of how we acquire it, how we deploy it, and particularly the taste we show and we develop in the course of human life in using this language in the company of others and in social context. what a strange thing to do to what has been the study of logic and metaphysics? in his moral philosophy, he builds on this. he talks about the way in which
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we acquire sentiments of morality, justice, political obligation, particularly aesthetics, um, and what he does is he does two things which are interesting. the first is, he very quietly distances himself from hutchison's notion that there is a moral sense. we have a moral sensibility, of course we do. no one could doubt that we have a moral sensibility. but is it hard-wired in the human personality? smith saw no reason to believe that. we have a sensibility -- we acquire sensibility. how do we do it? essentially, through sympathy with others, sympathetic relationships which are fostered and shaped by language. that is where our sensibility comes from. that is where our moral sensibility comes from. and that is where the various, various aspects of sensibility that make it possible for us to
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function as social animals, the moral sensibility, the sense of fairness and justice, the sense of obligation to, to sovereigns, the sense of beauty which attends our thinking about morality and the social virtues. and the second thing that smith does in this is instead of privileging morality -- the sense of morality as being the primary sense from which all our other different aspects of our social sensibility stem, no, it's justice. a sense of fairness which is the origins of our sense of justice which gives birth to a sense of justice. until we have that sense of fairness, until we acquire a sense of justice, we have no hope of acquiring a moral sensibility and everything else. in fact, um -- and then when he turns to government, his ideas
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of the, his ideas of why we obey government and our sensibility to men of power and men of rank is entirely disgraceful. it is as contemptible as anything that has turned up. anything that has turned up in the enlightenment, and he presents it as so. um, it is sympathy, a really disgraceful position to sympathize with the fortunes of the great and the powerful. natural respect. and this is the sole pillar on which our political sensibilities, um, our respect for political obligation
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naturally arises. now, the point i want to make here, um, is that this agenda is really quite fascinating. through it all runs a single theme, and that is that the primary characteristic of human nature, the characteristic which renders, which makes it possible for us to understand the world and understand ourselves and operate effectively, um, and happily within it, in the last resort comes down to a disposition to exchange, to exchange goods, services and sentiments. um, and as i say, smith says in the wealth of nations, the habit of exchange is the habit in
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which we indulge from the cradle to the grave. that principle of exchange runs through every single aspect of smith's understanding of the principles of human nature as he develops them in his, um, in his philosophy syllabus at glasgow. and, and what is that principle of exchange -- what does that principle of exchange have built into it? the notion that we want to understand the principles of human nature. then, actually, what we have to attend to is, in fact, something -- this is essentially historical as a process, something that takes place within the framework of historical time. our own understanding of the world and of ourselves is the result of experience which is,
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which is something that happens within historical time. our own particular experience. but our own particular experience operates within the framework of the conventions of a particular civil society. and what is more, the conventions of that have particular civil society are only truly explicable within the civilizational framework, within the framework of a feudal or commercial or capitalist or post-capitalist society. in other words, what smith is saying holds together and turns and allows us to understand the principles of human nature. is something like a deep historical process. and what i want to emphasize here is that what is completely lacking from all of this and what makes this study in itself
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of enormous and revolutionary importance for a historian is that there is no mention of the necessity of religious belief. smith never denied that a lot of people do what they do for religious reasons, but he says on every occasion you can find a natural reason drawn from philosophy and history and experience which will provide a stronger account of principles which otherwise theologians would import. essentially, theological principles to understand. religion has been taken out of the moral or philosophy curriculum in glasgow by adam smith. it has not happened anywhere else in europe. in northern europe, north or south. it is a revolutionary moment in the history of moral philosophy and, therefore, a revolutionary moment in the sort of education which was designed to prepare
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boys from, essentially from the middle ranks of society, for a life in the professions and public life. and as i say because i must end here otherwise no one will get a chance to ask questions, i do want to say here that if you want one of the keys to why adam smith matters to a historian who's of the scottish enlightenment, it is that smith plus his friend david hume whom i haven't had time to mention here, do present scottish intellectuals and particularly christian scottish intellectuals with the most enormous challenge of how you can rebuild a public culture in scotland on the basis of a credible system of natural theology, not the old one that's been rejected.
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as i say, i do want to say that in talking about this one of the things i've tried to do and would love to do more of and will do more of in future is to expose the huge debts that adam smith owed to his closest friend, david hume. we are accustomed to acknowledge the importance of david hume in shaping or partially shaping smith's economic thinking. we know about that. the thinking that comes from the end of hume's philosophical life and the authorship of the political discourses of 1752. what i don't think has been nearly enough appreciated is the huge importance of smith's revolutionary, revolutionary understanding of the principles of human nature, hume's skepticism that is to say. not only his religious kept similar, but his philosophical
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skepticism. and its importance in shaping hume's own agenda for a science of man. and really i am concluding this moment so, mr. chairman -- [laughter] i do think that what is interesting is to think about smith as a man who in many respects completed and extended that extraordinary project for creating a science of man which was, which disregarded religious principles altogether. and it is that that i've tried to remember anymore this book. thank you very much. [applause] >> very good, very interesting. now, if professor of phillipson's talk has stimulated in you a desire to buy this book, you say, man, i'd like to read that book, pretty reasonable, here's what the book looks like. this is what you're looking for.
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now, if you say to me, samples, aren't you engaging in shameless marketing on behalf of this book? my response to you would be, i don't think adam smith would mind. [laughter] the -- on to our commentator. james is joint philosopher of philosophy and economics and the charles g. koch fellow at center for american studies in washington d.c. he received an m.a. in philosophy from the university of wisconsin-milwaukee and advanced degrees including a ph.d. from the university of chicago. he has taught previously at journaltown university and at the university of alabama. he is the author of "adam smith's marketplace of life," 2000 from cambridge university press and "actual ethics." the latter won the 2007 templeton enterprise award. he is the editor of "the
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levelers." i thought we were against them, but i guess that's probably not right. >> [inaudible] >> okay. okay, see. you can always get straighten bed out at these things. and he's also the editor of "adam smith: selected philosophical writings." his book will be published by continuum press in 2011, and he is currently working on a book -- and he is very industrious, won't you agree? -- he's currently working on a book on the moral status of socialism. would you please welcome jim otisson. [applause] >> i think, again, i'm not too familiar, but i think that'll do it. >> thank you. it's a pleasure to be here. as you all will know, adam smith is one of the most beloved and the most hated, the most cited and yet probably for that reason the least-read figures in the pantheon of the great western writers. his ideas have helped transform
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political and economic policy throughout much of the world, and his ideas are credited by many for the astonishing and unprecedented growth in wealth and prosperity in the west, yet, but they are also blamed by many for the inequalities in wealth that have arisen since smith's time. so we can have today the interesting spect cl of, on the one hand, a deirdre mcclose sky who argues that adam smith's ideas have led to more good for humanity than arguably any other single glsh that way i can see you better -- and on the other hand, we can have a jeffrey zacks who suggests that smith yang markets have led to exploitation and deprivation. all of this accomplished by a socially-awkward 18th century scottish philosopher who wrote only two books his whole life which is hardly enough to get a full professorship at an
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american university these days. [laughter] so this suggests something of a puzzle, who really is this person, adam smith? what were these momentous ideas, good or bad? how can a person in an obscure profession, place and time have wrought such tremendous effect on the world? well, there's been, as one might expect, quite a range of writing on adam smith from all manner of perspectives, and for full disclosure, i myself have contributed to that. and smith has, indeed, been appropriated by many people including entire academic disciplines, by political parties, by schools of economics, by moral agendas all to serve their own purposes. so it can make one wonder, reasonably, whether one might get a true measure of the man. where can one find an account of smith that one can trust, an account that sketches smith's ideas and traces their development with due and proper reckoning in smith's time, places, friends, experiences? well, professor phillipson's
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book -- there you are -- is an excellent place to start. now, i have to say professor phillipson's book represents quite an achievement. i certainly counterhave pulled it off. it balances, on the one hand, the glands of scholars -- like me -- for precision, comprehensiveness and all of the scholarly apparatus with, on the other hand, the demand of nonscholarly readers for a book that tells an engaging, indeed compelling, story. professor phillipson has managed to tell an interesting story about an economist. [laughter] hats off to you. in truth, however, as professor phillipson himself pointed out, smith was much more than just an economist. he was a moral philosopher, that's what he called himself. and this moral philosopher sought to understand the principles that animate all human behavior. he spent his scholarly life trying to discover and define these principles and articulated
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not only a conception of social institutions grounded on -- and a plausible naturalistic picture of human psychology and nature, but also delineated a methodology for research that would set the agenda for new and future disciplines of the social sciences. he was the first great social scientist. now, professor phillipson reconstructs smith's achievement not only by locating the key principles of human behavior and social sciences that smith discovered, but also by explaining both what smith takes from and how he departs from others. so you get in this book smith's relationship to his teacher, francis hutchison. you also get fleshed-out conversations of the reliance on , the departures from other figures of the time, david hume, adam ferguson, russo, ed -- edmund burke whose statue is
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just outside. all of these allow the reader to make sense of the complicated constellation of stars that made up the scottish enlightenment. what professor phillipson has done, i think, is explained in if clear and this can't be emphasized too much readable prose smith's project in the lectures he gave, in the essays he wrote, in the learned society he joined, the friends he kept and, of course, the two books that he published. in smith is a brilliant mind trying to understand what the institutions are that lead to human happiness and human flourishing combineed with the generosity of soul smith had in using his discoveries to help remove obstacles to the well being of the common man. it is, indeed, an inspiring story. i say that in all sincerity, and it's skillful telling justifies recommending that you read it. now, since part of my duty is to
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point out and criticize faults of a book, i spent some time looking for faults as i worked through phillipson's book, and i'm saddened to report that i had a hard time finding any partly due to the fact that the interpretations are very close to my own, so that was a discovery i was very happy to make. um, so for the sake of discussion, let me point out a few things. i won't call them criticisms, maybe gentle suggestions. first, as a philosopher i feel duty-bound to raise the thorny issue of the so-called is/ought problem which relates to the logical fallacy of deriving a normative statement or an ought statement, one ought to do this or not do this, from a prescriptive or is statement such and such is the case or is the fact. it was david hume, after all, who articulated the fallacy in his treatise of human nature remarking that he noticed the
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frequency with which moralists would go from describing a certain state of affairs to immediately drawing moral conclusions or injunctions from. but hume noted that doesn't quite work logically. one can describe all the factual details of a murder, for example, without thereby determining any specific moral conclusion to draw from it. the moral value is something else that has to be added. one can't simply go from one to the other. i raise this now because smith seems to have had a foot in both the normative and descriptive camps, and it's not quite clear or at least not uncontested how he resolved this. so, for example, in phillipson's account he discusses the impartial spectator as both a curistic device that people employ when deciding what to do -- so if you want to know whether what you're contemplating doing is the right thing or the wrong thing, you ask what an observer would
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think, would they approve or disapprove? and this can give you a guide to whether you should do it or not. on the other hand, according to phillipson, smith also uses this impartial spectator not just as a description of how, in fact, people make decisions, but how they ought to make decisions. to be a moral person, you should listen to this voice of the impartial spectator. well, that raises the question of what exactly is smith doing in the theory of moral sentiments? is he a moral psychologist who is merely describing his empirical findings about the phenomenon of human moral judgment making? or is he also a moralist who is making relations about -- recommendations about how people ought to live? it seems he's at least the former, arguably the latter as well, but the question is how they go together. i'm sure professor phillipson has an answer to that, but one would be interested to hear what it is. a similar issue arises in the wealth of nations when smith
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declares it is not the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, the baker -- can you recite this line with me -- that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interests. well, that sounds like a descriptive statement. and as some have said, a rather cynical one. but one might ask the question, perhaps that is how we often do behave, but is that how we should behave? so the question, again s what kind of claim is smith making? is he making some sort of recommendation? so my first gentle suggestion to professor phillipson is it would be nice if he addressed the issue and tried to sort it out one way or the other. now, there are a handful of other important topics to one might wish phillip had given more than just a nod or cursory attention. i'll mention one, and that question is, how can one reconcile smith's argument for free trade?
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indeed, in his own words smith's very violent attack on the whole commercial system of great britain -- that's smith's words -- how can one reconcile this as professor phillipson describes it? correctly, i add. exacting, even punctilious fulfillment of his duties as the commissioner of customs for the last decade or so of his life. in other words, how can one square the fact that smith argued for the abolition of tariffs, quotas and other impediments to trade with the fact that, when given the opportunity, he applied and exacted exactly those thicks with great -- things with great enthusiasm, perhaps even with relish? in 1773 smith was offered the chance to become the tutor to the duke of hamilton. he turned it down, and instead in 1778 he became the commissioner of customs. as phillipson rightly notes, it was surely a mistake. those are phillipson's words,
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and i entirely agree. because the job of commissioner of customs consumed more and more of smith's time, and it also negatively affected his health as well. as a result, it probably prevented him from completing the great and large and, tragically, never published philosophical project that he had been working on at the end of his life. instead, smith's connected history of liberal sciences and elegant arts as his executors described it on which he had worked for many years was never brought to fruition, and instead his notes and manuscripts, as professor phillipson recounted a few minutes ago, were burned at his direction only a few weeks before he dieed. so why would smith not only have taken a job that seemed to conflict with his principles but also prevented him from completing projects that he loved and believed in? and i would guess that no one would be in a better position to address these questions than professor phillipson, so i'd be
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interested to know what he thinks. and on a related note one might ask how one should understand smith's endorsement of free trade in wealth of nations and also endorse limited government with his, as phillipson describes it, pervasive doubts about the competence of modern governments on the one hand with, on the other hand, his rather long list of duties that smith suggested were the sovereigns, including frequent and gay public diversions. how do these things go together? in the interest of time, i have some other examples, but the issue about religion is an interesting one, whether smith, in fact, retained his religion on the one hand and what role religion or god play in the theory of moral sentiments or the wealth of nations is a second issue. be happy to discuss those in the question and answer session. another issue that i myself have written about but i was quite
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interesting to see phillipson did not broach was the so-called adam smith problem. some of you may be interested in a discussion of that or even knowing what that is. professor phillipson didn't discuss this in his book. but i would like to close my remarks by pointing out what i felt was one of the most important and even enlightening tips from his book. quoting him now, the greatest and most enduring monument to the intellectual culture of the scottish enlightenment. that's quite a statement. the greatest and most enduring monument to the culture of the scottish enlightenment. if you know something about the astonishing production of human knowledge in a whole range, indeed, virtually every area of human learning that went on during the scottish enlightment, to locate that book as an achievement can is quite a strong statement.
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but i would like to say that phillipson's book shows it is not unfair to say that the story actually parallels and reflects the story of adam smith himself. indeed, the story of the scottish enlightenment is in a deep and profound sense the story of adam smith. now, given how profoundly our own world has, in turn, been shaped by the ideas that came out of the scottish enlightenment, i think we can say smith's story is the story also of us. so to understand adam smith is to understand ourselves. phillipson's book provides a deep and thorough picture of the complex life of adam smith, and his integration into this astonishing period of learning that we know as the scottish enlightenment. in so doing, phillipson's book provides a timely window onto our own place in the world today. thank you. [applause]
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>> okay. we've had a very good forum here today. this has been extraordinary, i think. and now we're going to cap it off with a great question and answer session. now, as a prelude to that, i would say, please, raise your hand if you have a question. please say, you might want to indicate your name and an affiliation also. and wait for a microphone to arrive because, so we can get the sound throughout. and finally, please, have your comments in the form of a question. and if you want to direct them to one or the other, indicate so. the gentleman here in front here who had his hand up first. >> the name is steve hankin, no real affiliation, just retired attorney. i wanted to ask, i guess, both of you whether you think in any way adam smith could be considered a forerunner of the
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austrian school, and when i say that i mean the kind of method of deductive reasoning that the austrians embrace versus the experimental models that have, you know, come up afterwards? do you think -- the question is, do you think that he pretty much embrace withed an afore sharry deductive of reasoning method as opposed to the scientific method? >> both gentlemen, but first our author. >> i think the short answer is, no, whether he can be seen as a forerunner to the austrian school of chick bees -- economics. that's not to say they won't agree on what many aspects of what the proper scope and function of the government is, for example. but smith was anything but an
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opry yore ri theorist. he was much more of a grounded and empirically-oriented philosopher. indeed, that's one of the main characteristics, i would argue, of the scottish enlightenment or the method that smith and hume and others are emblematic of. if you want to know what sort of government you should have, if you want to know how human societies work, go and look. see what different -- because, after all, the panoply of human experiments that there have been offer quite a range of human experiments. go see in what -- go look at them and see what has worked, what hasn't worked. and i think that typifies the approach of adam smith. that's not to say he wouldn't be in agreement with, say, well -- historical figure. smith read john locke, read the second treatise, was fully conversant with the certain principles of human nature and
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natural law, and we deduce from that the proper scope of government. that just wasn't his approach. so they may well have agreed in many conclusions, but they would have arrived at them in different ways. >> i think one of the things that is often forgotten with the wealth of nations is the sheer, the consequences of the sheer richness of that book. and it very much, it tends to encourage speculation about what might smith have thought about something as well as what smith did think. now, i make that distinction because smith, it seems to me, is extremely careful both method logically and as an an executor in writing the wealth of nations to produce an analysis which explains why we have got in western europe, basically -- in friend -- french and british
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civilization, and his method doesn't allow him to formulate principles that are any more general than that. the humian underpinning of his thinking, the his torist character of his reasoning does not allow him to explain anything more than the dilemmas and the problems of governance that exist within his own society. now, the trouble in doing that, he raises all sorts of general questions which may or may not apply to the experience of civilization's lying beyond his own reach. and i think it's very interesting that -- and one of the things i tried to do and i may say many goeses of writing my chapter on the wealth of
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nations, was to strip the analysis back to what smith was claiming he could throw light on as political economist in the sense of public duty. and he is very careful about stopping the argument at the point beyond which only the imagination can take us and only utopian can go. and in that respect i don't so much -- to i'm, as i say, i'm a poor economist -- i don't see so much smith's affinities lying with the vienna school so much as lying with, i'm afraid, keynes. >> [inaudible] >> well, i'm sorry. i knew someone was going to say that. >> a whole new set of hands have gone up. [laughter] >> i know. the frame of mind, the frame of mind -- let's leave aside the execution in terms of governance -- the frame of mind has much more in common with that of maynard keynes than i think is often realized.
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>> we'll just leave that hanging for the moment. [laughter] let's, the gentleman in the second row from the aisle. right here. i tend to go about it random, there's no plan here. we did get more hands though. [laughter] >> thank you. carl posener, not affiliated. professor phillipson, what things did you learn while writing this book that you didn't know about previously or things that added to your understanding that surprised you? >> the relationship with hume. i've always been intrigued by the relationship between hume and smith as anyone is bound to be. it's the depth of that relationship. and the thing that i must say really got the text moving as far as i could see was when, um, i tried to present smith as, in
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fact, an extremely friendly, an intelligent critic of hume's project for science of man as set out in the treatise of human nature. it is very interesting to reflect on what it is that smith does, almost certainly at the very beginning of his career between 1748 and '51 and continued in glasgow to read these as developing things that for reasons probably we don't really know about smith never thought of going. why is there no theory of language in the three disof -- treatise of human nature? hume's science of man depends upon a theory of language which will privilege an understanding of discourse, conversation -- he doesn't produce one. smith does. again, the historicism, the fact
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that hume has an understanding that our ideas of justice and, therefore, of morality, political obligation and everything will vary in different types of civilization; hunter/gatherer, feudal, commercial. but he doesn't work it out. he makes these distinctions in his early work, but they're not developed. smith came over, to me, as someone who was developing in the most friendly and brilliant way. and that, i think, was the most exciting thing for me to be able to develop and then to carry that through. but it's an interesting question, actually, it really is. >> the woman right here. >> yes, my name is rosalynn
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mcclennan, and i'm a theater reviewer for d.c. theater, and i just survived candid which had a very successful run here, a musical which bernstein continuously revised because he couldn't quite figure out what voltaire was trying to say. but that's my basic question is, do you explore adam smith's relationship with the french and what was going on in france at that time, especially between 1750 and 1770, i believe? you're going to have to help me out here, this was a movement -- >> the physioaccurates. >> physiocrats, thank you, and this idea that you can guarantee individual liberty, but you can't guarantee the results. and there was just delightful numbers in the musical, i mean, the best of all possible worlds, but he makes outrageous fun --
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voltaire did -- of this belief, this, to him, ridiculous belief that came out of the enlightenment that this is the best of all possible worlds when there's an earthquake in lisbon, people are dying of poverty, and what's the use of all this dishonest endeavor at being so clever if you just have to pass it along, pass it along? >> [laughter] that's all it is, you just pass it along. >> what about it, professor? >> we both ought to have a go at that. >> yes. >> well, i must say i wish i'd seen this version of candid. well, there was another version approved by bernstein himself and conducted by john marcherry in scotland a few years ago which was vastly intriguing. all sorts of things happened to it. but i'm not sure i think it's necessary -- i think it's a pretty free go at voltaire.
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what voltaire himself would have said about it, i dare not think. i mean, it would have undoubtedly been memorable. but the point was adam smith, adam smith -- i think it's important to remember, although voltaire does not appear on the surface as a player in any of his debates with the french, with the -- [inaudible] let alone the physiocrat, he does not play at all. but that does not mean that voltaire is not there. smith owned and bought -- he met voltaire, he talked with voltaire, and he once told one of his pupils who started to criticize voltaire, he said, sir, there is no -- there is only one voltaire. and he bought a magnificent bust of him. and what that reminds me is this is smith on the voltaire as the anticlerical. it's very interesting that in
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this classic, um, confrontation between the enlightenment and religion and all the classic implications, all of that, that does not appear on the pages of smith at all in the way it does with hume. hume's anticlericalism, his religious skepticism is constantly resurfacing in his writing. smith it her is. and -- it never is. and i think one of the very interesting things, questions to ask about smith is why when he has adopted a philosophy which is, which, in fact, argues for the irrelevance, the philosophical irrelevance of theology, why, in in fact -- and when there is very little doubt that he had, that he had, he was alarmed by the consequences of
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clericalism as hume, voltaire or anyone. why, he does not allow it to intrude into the center of his philosophy. but he doesn't. >> i think he does. in the following way. so he does mention voltaire, and he does -- and the answer to your first question, phillipson does discuss the connection to the french and the enlightenment, but i think there's a substantial way voltaire fits into the program. and that is the following: or if you remember at the end of candid, i haven't seen the musical, but at the end of the book one of the lessons is to tend to one's own garden. this, i think s a powerful insight, and it figured mightily in smith's declassing of political philosophers, indeed, the extent to which our policymakers and legislators should no longer imagine that they can apprehend the good with
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a capital g the way plato had imagined the political philosophers would do and then organize the entire state from top to bottom in conception of their idea of the good life. ..


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